Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Folded like a note

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

"There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school."

Sharon Olds

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Your memoir and the importance of EMPATHY

You, as a memoirist, want to write about people that “readers bond with and root for,” writes Angela Ackerman, “and this happens because of one very important word: EMPATHY.”

“When characters are unique yet well-rounded and familiar in some way, we connect with them,” Angela continues. “We empathize with what they are going through, become tense when trouble hits, and relax when they emerge in one piece. We care about what happens to them because our emotions are engaged.”

You and I, as memoirists, have a big responsibility: to create realistic, fleshed-out main characters in our stories—not all the people, but central figures. Our job: craft believable individuals.

The stars of our narratives, the heroes, need to have:
  • personality,
  • quirks,
  • depth,
  • blind spots,
  • complexity,
  • obsessions,
  • talents,
  • weaknesses,
  • inconsistencies,
  • successes,
  • and failures.

What trait is most prominent? His worst trait? Her most endearing trait?

What is his passion? What are her life’s goals? Did he drop out of high school to fight in World War 2? Does she have her PhD?

We pinpoint what makes these details unique within the context of our lives and stories. If she’s wealthy, or if he’s just barely scraping by—and if that is significant info for our readers—then we include it.

We use all five senses to round out our main characters. We let readers see, smell, hear, feel, and taste what we experienced with our heroes.

Does she usually smell like lilacs? Or garlic? Does he have red hair and freckles? Does she have dark skin and white hair? Does he smell like coal because he works in a coal mine? Do you wish he used deodorant? Are her hands soft and well-groomed, or are they rough and chapped? What does his voice sound like? Is she cute as a bug’s ear? Does he have a birth defect? Does he wear too much aftershave? Is she super-organized? Is he sloppy?

We want our readers to feel they know our main characters and can relate to them, care about them.

Analyze and then include your main characters’ body language: “Sometimes what people say without actually speaking tells us a whole lot more than what comes out of their mouths,” writes Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward blog. “Using body language to communicate is natural. We all understand it intuitively.… [C]losely observe people’s body language and learn how humans speak without words so you can bring unspoken communication into your writing.”

Our readers want to enter our stories with us. They want to identify with us, bond, cry, laugh, worry, and hang in there with us all the way to the end.  

You’ll enjoy reading more about creating empathy through action, a person’s flaws, self-doubts, and mistakes in Angela’s post, “3 Quick Tips To Help Readers Connect To Your Hero.” (Keep in mind the post is about developing fictitious characters, but Angela’s tips are important for real people in your memoir. Just be sure you’re honest and accurate in fleshing out your real person!)

Again: Include only those details that are unique within the context of your stories. If a bit of description is significant info for your readers, include it.

More next week on fleshing out our main characters.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Tell somebody!

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

"Don't miss the surprises in life.
Pay attention to the little things God does...
especially those for which you've never asked.
Then thank Him
and tell somebody what He's done."

(emphasis mine)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wayne Groner: Simplify Writing Your Memoir with Three Best Practices

You are in for a treat today: practical info and inspiration for writing your memoir from author and personal historian, Wayne Groner. Be sure to check out Wayne’s new book, A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tips, Tools, Methods, and Examples.

Simplify Writing Your Memoir with Three Best Practices

The number one roadblock to writing memoir is where to start. Rolling in our heads are many wonderful stories involving a great number of learning and growing experiences. This is especially true as we consider God’s blessings and how he changed our lives. We want to get it all out and don’t know where or how to begin. The best way to begin is to simplify.

First, decide to write a memoir, not an autobiography or family history. This keeps you from wandering in uncontrolled directions and it defines your parameters for research.

Time periods are what distinguish the three story types.

Autobiography is from birth to today. It is an autobiography if you write about yourself and a biography if you write about someone else. Celebrities and politicians often are subjects of biographies and autobiographies.

Family history uses genealogy, photos, and stories to tell about your ancestors. You may start several centuries ago and stop at any date you choose.

Memoir covers a short time period or series of related events such as childhood, teenage years, military service, trauma, spiritual journey, and so forth. Your stories tell key experiences that influenced you and how you changed, such as Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. 

Books of the Bible are mixtures of the three types. Biblical authors didn’t write to display types, but to show God’s compassion to humans with stories told through laws, history, wisdom, prophecies, hymns, poems, and letters.

Second, define your motivation for writing. All creatures feel the need to be connected, whether honeybees or humans, wolves or whales, amoebae or anteaters; whether by village, tribe, pack, household, school, work, neighborhood, city, county, state, country, religion, or politics.

What are your reasons for wanting to be connected?
Do you want to become famous?
Make loads of money?
Find personal enjoyment?
Honor family legacy?
Give back to the community?
Help your children and grandchildren
understand and appreciate their heritage?
Find personal or family healing?
Share your journey of faith to inspire others?
Set the record straight?

Marriage and family therapist, author, and memoir writing instructor Linda Joy Myers puts it this way:

The most important ingredient in writing a memoir
is motivation
a passionate reason to get the story on the page,
a ‘fire in the belly’ feeling
that what you have to tell is important
and significant.”

Aspiring Olympians become motivated by watching winning Olympians and noting their times or scores. The Olympians-to-be wrote the winning times on a note attached to a refrigerator door or cover of a spiral notebook. It’s okay to have more than one motivation, but more than three muddies your focus and can be overwhelming. Think of how your story not only will make a difference in your life but in the lives of those who read it.

Third, focus on key events by making a list of memory joggers, brief notes to help you remember experiences. Memory joggers speed up your writing process and give you freedom to write.

Your goal in listing memory joggers is not perfection in details; it is to remember that events occurred. 

You could outline your entire life story using memory joggers, similar to the approach Linda Spence takes in Legacy: A Step-by-step Guide to Writing Personal History. She divides a life into nine major segments: beginnings and childhood, adolescence, early adult years, marriage, being a parent, middle adult years, being a grandparent, later adult years, and reflections. In each segment, she lists questions to help you remember what might have been going on in your life. She has more than 400 questions throughout the book.

Start your list of memory joggers by preparing nine pieces of paper or computer files, each with one of Spence’s major life segments at the top, or whatever segments fit your memoir’s purpose.

In each segment, write a brief line or two about activities you were involved in during that time. Your list could include a handful of activities or dozens. Don’t write complete sentences or paragraphs and don’t try to write a story; just bits of information you will refer to later when writing your stories.

Here are a few prompts to get your juices flowing:

  • Old family photographs
  • School yearbooks
  • Travel photos
  • What you were doing when big news events occurred
  • Your first car wreck
  • When you learned to ride a bicycle
  • Letters from family and friends
  • Family Bible
  • Newspaper on the day you were born or other dates you select; search your browser for vendors
  • Family heirlooms: jewelry, books, furniture, clothing, dishes, and so forth
  • Names of family members and friends
  • Persons who most influenced you, for better or worse
  • Those who guided your faith journey
  • Firsts: first date, first driving lesson, first job, first child, and so forth
  • Accomplishments and failures with lessons learned
  • Saddest and happiest events
  • Serious illness
  • Death of a loved one
  • Treasured friendships
  • Friendships gone bad

With these three toolsstory type, motivation, and memory joggers–you will be well on your way to a satisfying and successful journey of writing the memoir you want.

Personal historian Wayne E. Groner is author of A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tips, Tools, Methods, and Examples, and other nonfiction books. He is president of Springfield Writers’ Guild (Missouri). Follow him at www.waynegroner.com and on Facebook.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Delightful, powerful ripple effects: Samantha’s memoir

“The Samantha White book arrived this afternoon,” my friend wrote in an email, “and I'm about 30 pages into it already. Boy, can I relate! Thank you so much for suggesting it.”

I had mentioned to my friend—let’s call her Erin—that she might enjoy Samantha’s memoir, Someone to Talk To:  Finding Peace, Purpose, and Joy After Tragedy and Loss, and Erin ordered Samantha’s book that very day!

About 24 hours after Erin started reading Samantha’s memoir, she sent another email: “What a gift…! Samantha’s path, experiences and emotions are so very similar to mine that it is uncanny.… It is such a relief to hear others felt or feel the same way I do.

Before long, Erin wrote again:  “On page 177 in Samantha's book she states for the first time she has fibromyalgia. OMG! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Both in our 70s, she and I have walked parallel lives on opposite coasts. No wonder her words so resonated with me.…

Other than the Bible, her book is probably the most impacting and significant book I have ever read! Honestly. Our paths and feelings are so very similar. On almost every page I could say ‘That's me! That's exactly me!’ Only someone who has been there can have even an inkling of the pain we suppress and try not to self acknowledge. 

“Thank you again, Linda, for mentioning Samantha's book to me. No longer feeling so alone, it is a comfort to read about someone who has lived this and survived and, more importantly, thrived! Telling her story helped heal her and it is a significant step in helping with my healing.”

Some of you—perhaps many of you—
fear your story is not worth telling.
You worry no one would want to read your memoir.
I hope you will reconsider and write your story.
You lived your story
so that,
like Samantha,
you can bless others with and through it.

Think how exciting and rewarding that would be.
Think of how moving it would be to learn
your story could help answer someone’s prayers.
Think of the way God could use your memoir
to bring healing and hope.

Put yourself in Samantha’s place: What would you feel if you received messages like Erin’s?

Samantha emailed: “Passing Erin’s words on to me, the message that my book is helping and inspiring her, was a blessing. It is what I prayed for, all the time I was writing it. ‘Please let this book fly on wings to those who might derive some comfort, courage and inspiration from it.’ Please thank Erin for me, for her words, which are an answer to my prayers.”

Did you catch that? Samantha prayed while she wrote her memoir. She asked God to give others comfort, courage, and inspiration from her experience and her memoir. How exciting is that?!

You, too, can pray while you write.
Who knows what God might do through your story?

In her earlier guest post here at SM 101, Samantha said writing her memoir was “among the toughest, most draining, most rewarding things I have ever done” but her painful past and the tough job of writing her memoir brought about blessing and healing for her and others like Erin.

But there’s more to Samantha’s story. Personal Life Coach, memoirist, and retired psychotherapist, she wrote:

“When I moved to another state I had to leave my private practice of psychotherapy behind, and discovered that I missed doing my life’s work and needed to develop a new practice, with a new emphasis. And so my life coaching practice was born!”

Check out Samantha’s new website at http://LifeCoachSamantha.com and sign up for her newsletter, Recipe for Healing, a once-a-month short message of encouragement for surviving and thriving after tragedy and loss.

Be sure to click on Samantha’s earlier post about writing and publishing her memoir.  Take a few minutes to read it. You’ll be inspired.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Detours? or Your God-planned Destiny?

Here is today’s 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

“…What we consider ‘detours’ in our lives
aren’t always detours in God’s overarching plan….
Friend, if you have bitter things in your life—
things that look like they have diverted you
onto a detour from your destiny,
they do not have the final say.
They are not the defining factors in who you are.
Your detours are simply God’s perfect plan
to get you exactly where He wants you to be.
Tony Evans (emphasis mine)

Tony pinpoints a key aspect of memoir: You, the memoir-writer, look back at turning points, significant events, key people,

and you look back at
what might look like disappointments
or failures
or detours
or setbacks—

and you connect the dots and discoveruncover—all the ways God has been working out His “perfect plan to get you exactly where He wants you to be.”

That sounds pretty exciting to me! How about you?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fathers, Part 2

On June 21 we’ll celebrate Father’s Day and if you’ve been following this blog for even a short while, you know what comes next:

Have you written something about your father for your memoir? Many people will.

Whether you knew your father or not, whether he was a good father or not, he influenced who you are today.  

Your kids, grands, and great-grands need to know about him.

If you haven’t written about your father, but want to, you might be stuck.

Sometimes it’s not easy to write about fathers.

With that in mind, last week I gave you links to several writings about fathers. (If you missed them, click on the above link to read the work of Mick Silva, Steve Moakler, Cecil Murphey, Stacy Sanchez, and Claire McCarthy.)

This week I offer you more inspiration. I hope and pray you’ll find these helpful as you write your memoir.

“When I was a boy of fourteen,
my father was so ignorant
I could hardly stand to have the old man around.
But when I got to be twenty-one,
I was astonished at
how much the old man had learned
in seven years.”
Mark Twain

“I wondered what my father had looked like that day,
how he had felt,
marrying the lively and beautiful girl who was my mother.
I wondered what his life was like now.
Did he ever think of us?
I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t;
I didn’t know him well enough.
Instead, I wondered about him occasionally,
with a confused kind of longing.
There was a place inside me carved out for him;
I didn’t want it to be there, but it was.
Once, at the hardware store,
Brooks had shown me how to use a drill.
I’d made a tiny hole that went deep.
The place for my father was like that.”
Elizabeth Berg, We Are All Welcome Here

“Sometimes I think my papa was an accordion.
When he looks at me and smiles and breathes,
I hear the notes.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Dorothy Brotherton writes in her poignant post:

“Young dads were useful to help us learn to tie our shoes and ride a bike and build a tree house.

“Middle-age dads were handy for borrowing the car keys and credit cards, and perhaps they helped us with a house down-payment. As a dad grows older he may hold onto the ability to give us sage advice.

“But when dads get old, really old, when they are diminished both physically and mentally, what are they for then?

“… That’s the question we must face. None of us wants to outlive our usefulness.

“… So what should we do with an old father?....”  (Click on Honoring our Aging Fathers to read Dorothy Brotherton’s post. It’s a must-read.)

Some of us cherish memories of our fathers.

Others might have only painful memories.

Some memories are mixed. Bittersweet.

What stories do you need to write about your father?

What will your kids and grandkids and great-grands
miss if you don’t write those stories?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: “Signposts on the way to God”

Here is today’s 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Are you a parent, friend, teacher, pastor, spouse, son, or daughter?

If so, take these words to heart:

“How do we know about God’s love,
God’s generosity,
God’s kindness,
God’s forgiveness?
Through our parents,
our friends,
our teachers,
our pastors,
our spouses,
our children—
they all reveal God to us.…
Gradually we discover that
they were all signposts on the way to God.”
 (Henri Nouwen’s “Signposts on the Way to God,”
May 4 selection from Bread for the Journey)

Your stories are powerful. Through your stories, you can reveal God to your readers—His love, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness.

Your memoir could be a “signpost on the way to God” for your readers.

Be inspired to write—and finish—your memoir, and place it into the hands of your kids, grandkids, great-grands, and others: friends, relatives, colleagues. Maybe you’ll even publish it for a wider audience.

Never doubt the power of your stories.
Set aside time to write them.